Left Margin LIT, a new literary arts center, opens in Berkeley


It is September and the streets of Berkeley are once again buzzing with the students who have returned to UC Berkeley.

Steps from the sprawling campus, a nearby corner is poised to attract even more students. Left Margin LIT, a new literary art center, will open its doors.

Like San Francisco Cave, the oldest writing center in the Bay Area, Left Margin LIT (as on the Left Coast) will cater to students of varying ages and backgrounds. It’s a small organization – just a small room, tucked away in a two-story building in the so-called Ghetto Gourmet – and the faculty totals four instructors.

Rachel Richardson and David Roderick, the founders of Left Margin LIT, hope to expand their center in the future. A married couple who recently moved to the bay area of ​​North Carolina, Richardson and Roderick – both published poets – will teach, as will novelist and short story writer Laleh Khadivi and novelist Porter Shreve, a regular contributor to The Chronicle.

Left Margin LIT classes will start at the end of the month.

Richardson and Roderick opened up about their mission in an interview with The Chronicle.

Why does the Bay Area need another arts hub? What will be distinct about you?

Richardson: We deeply believe in history. We believe everyone has an important story to tell and should be encouraged to put it on the page, whether the goal is self-knowledge, preserving family history, or improving craftsmanship for the better. publication.

Roderick: Stories, poems and essays have the power to inspire and connect people from different backgrounds. They are culture carriers, as Thoreau said.

Laleh Khadivi will lead a workshop entitled “The storyteller and history”.Meghan McNeer

Richardson: Particularly in the Bay Area, there is such a strong commitment to experimentation and creativity – we want to provide an outlet for people to practice this in a rigorous workshop setting that will push them to create the best piece possible. . We’re a small center, part of a much larger arts ecosystem – we hope to complement what’s here and attract more people who might have considered writing but haven’t found the right place yet.

Roderick: I admire the literary organizations here, like Litquake, the Grotto, the Writing Salon and the Bay Area Book Festival, as well as the wonderful programming that takes place at our local bookstores. The festival, which we both worked for last year, showed us that there was a great desire on this side of the bridge to have more literary programming all year round.

Why Berkeley?

Roderick: This part of the Bay Area is poorly served. There is so much creative talent here.

Richardson: And because people who work, or parent, or commute or all three, have busy lives. Writing takes space (in time and in spirit), and it’s hard to find that in this frenetic community we all live in. Crossing a bridge takes away some of those precious hours and interrupts the calm you are trying to access. Why Berkeley in particular? Berkeley is a dear place to me (I grew up here), and it just happens to be where we live now. But in my utopian fantasy, there would be a literary art center in every neighborhood, where anyone could walk, bus, or cycle and find a perfect course for their interest and level of mastery. Wouldn’t that be great?

Porter Shreve will teach “Going Long,” a prose workshop.
Porter Shreve will teach “Going Long,” a prose workshop.

Are there writing centers that you would like to emulate?

Roderick: Wow, there are so many inspiring literary organizations that have sprung up in recent years. Brooklyn Poets and Sackett Street in New York, Grub Street in Boston.

Richardson: And giants like The Loft in Minneapolis and Hugo House in Seattle. They are awesome. But there are also many younger projects with a lot of energy and ideas: The Attic Institute and Literary Arts in Portland, The Porch in Nashville and Arts + Literature Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, to name a few. -a.

Who do you think the center could benefit from?

Roderick: We believe that having a diverse group of writers from a wide range of backgrounds makes workshops richer and more productive. We want baristas, doctors, tech geeks, beat poets, teenage teens, soccer moms and stay-at-home dads all at the same table discussing their writing plans. It’s impossible to find this kind of eclectic mix in a college classroom.

Richardson: Grandparents too! And high school students! We hope the range of our offerings appeal to residents of the East Bay, and we try to keep our ears to the ground for what would be most wanted.

How do you hope to keep the classes diverse?

Richardson: We are committed to hiring ethnically and creatively diverse faculty to represent the populations we hope to serve. Ultimately, we hope to offer sliding scale tuition fees as needed. Ideally, we would like our only criteria for class admission to be desire, skill, and effort.

What do you like most about teaching?

Roderick: I feel more alive when I’m in class with like-minded people. By that I mean people who love literature and know that writing is hard work and involves a lot of failure. My lessons always cover interesting content. They are also generally full of good spirit and camaraderie. Although I have published two collections of poems, I am still faced with all the problems my students face: writer’s block, doubt, fear of failure, etc.

Richardson: I love to see a student writer break through after working on an article and receiving feedback. It’s a great moment when a writer realizes that his job is not to accept or reject changes in his writing, but to reimagine it. This is when the best things arrive on the page. I can often see the surprise on the writer’s face when she gives it back – she had no idea she was writing this.

You are offering four courses this fall – what types of courses do you plan to have in the future?

Roderick: We’ve been dreaming about this project for a long time, so we have all kinds of great ideas including master classes, book clubs, retreats, and intensive one-day writing boot camps. Mixed gender course. Hopefully specialized literature courses.

Do you have other teachers planned for the future?

Roderick: We are very selective in terms of finding teaching talent. All of our instructors have published books and received significant awards for their writing. And you should see the teaching resumes from our two fall prose instructors – Laleh Khadivi and Porter Shreve have some serious teaching chops.

Richardson: We love to introduce people to the craft, but we also really understand that he feels lonely there as a practicing writer who doesn’t have as much community as before. We also want to serve this writer. So we’re asking instructors who are immensely accomplished, who can challenge people at all levels – and we’re in the Bay Area, so we’re spoiled for choice! We can’t announce future teachers just yet, but Porter and Laleh are amazing, and more stellar instructors will be joining us soon.

You are a married couple living in Berkeley and working together in Berkeley – are you going to take a separate vacation to get rid of each other?

Roderick: Ha! I’ll let my wife answer this one.

Richardson: Um yes.

John McMurtrie is the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle book. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @McMurtrieSF

More information: Left margin LIT


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